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Explanations > Emotions > Happiness

Happiness is | Triggering happiness | DiscussionSo what


Happiness is

Happiness is experienced as a warm feeling. When we are happy we feel a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. We are also more grateful, friendly and forgiving with others.

We feel happiness when we feel we are achieving our goals, and especially so when we achieve a hard-won goal. Positive anticipation and attendant happiness happens when we predict that we will achieve our goals and feel confident about those predictions, perhaps because they have been right recently.

Happiness is generally considered to be the opposite to sadness, although the complexities of these emotions mean this is more of a general statement than an exact one.

Czikszentmihalyi (1992), in his long study of happiness identified what he called an 'autotelic' personality - a person who set their own goals, short- and long-term, and then had great fun in achieving them.

Seligman (2002) defines three components of happiness as pleasure, engagement and meaning. He then expands this in Seligman (2011) to PERMA: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning/purpose, and Accomplishment.

Achor (2010) defines happiness as simply 'the joy we feel striving after our potential'.

Triggering happiness

Happiness can be increased by things that remind us of happy things, from up-beat music to comedies. A particularly powerful trigger of happiness are words. Read a paragraph that contains words like 'new' and 'exciting' and 'wonderful' and you will start to feel good. Happiness also increases when we decrease exposure to things that make us unhappy.

Happiness is sometimes contrasted with joy, with happiness being a state or mood and joy being the positive experience that is triggered by an event such as receiving good news or achieving a goal.


Internally, happiness is caused by seratonin being created in the brain. Happy people produce lots of seratonin, whilst sad people produce very little.

Much of the chance of being happy is inherited, with 50% due to genetics. A further 10% is caused by environmental factors, which leaves 40% which is driven by conscious (or maybe less thinking) choice. (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005).

Happy people tend to be more optimistic and adventurous. This appears in such as shopping habits, where happy people will buy more and also buy more different and unusual things.

People tend to be attracted to other people who are happy, which gives some credit to theories that connect it to evolutionary benefit.

Happiness is not a permanent state, and no matter what we get, we will always swing between happiness and sadness. Just look at the miserable rich people out there. In terms of income, it has been shown that once we have a roof over our heads and food on the table, increasing amounts of money cannot buy more happiness.

So what?

So if you want someone to do something adventurous, get them happy. Do this by helping them to set and achieve goals (or at least believe that they will achieve them some time soon).

See also

Happiness, Ways to Happiness

Attraction vs. avoidance preference

Happy Mondays


Czikszentmihalyi, M. (1992), Flow: The Psychology of Happiness, London: Rider [also published as 'Flow: The psychology of optimal experience']

Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K.M. and Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change, Review of General Psychology, 9, 111-131

Seligman, M. (2002). Authentic Happiness. New York: Free Press.

Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish. New York: Free Press.

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